By Raymond Linex II
State Senator Brian Birdwell joked about his Purple Heart, the one he earned after the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon.
He didn’t earn it in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq or on any foreign soil.
“I got it as I stepped out the bathroom,” he said, “and that doesn’t go over well (with other honorees).”
Birdwell (R-Granbury), a retired colonel from the Army, was the featured speaker at Mildred High School’s annual Veteran’s Day program Monday. He opened with a line from former rules of engagement briefings, were soldiers were encouraged “to be good, be brief and be gone.”
And he was.
The senator did not get into the circumstances that led to his Purple Heart, how he was working in the Pentagon that day, was burned so badly he probably should not have survived, and how he had a nurse remove his wedding ring and promise to give it to his wife, Mel. The road to recovery with Mel was a spiritual one, and one the retired lieutenant has told often.
On Monday, a day replete with Mildred’s band playing military anthems and elementary students signing and singing, Birdwell turned his attention to the almost 100 veterans seated in front of the podium. They fought in Korea and Vietnam and in Iraq, and served in peace time as well. There were Marines, and members of the Army, Air Force, Navy and National Guard.
Per the scripture he eluded to from the onset, he “rendered honor to whom honor is due.”
Most notably, Birdwell heaped praise upon Vietnam veterans in Lane Gymnasium.
“Part of what we’re doing today is not just recognizing veterans of war, but recognizing veterans not welcomed home,” Birdwell said. “Vietnam veterans deserve a second thank you for waiting 40 years for this day.”
Mildred’s program has grown over the years from 30 veterans in attendance about 12 years ago. Each receives a certificate of honor, presented by students, often a grandchild or son or daughter.
Before that part of the ceremony took place, and before the standing ovation that followed honoring all of the veterans individually, the senator urged those in attendance to honor men and women in uniform daily.
“Let us make sure we always recognize them, not just on Veteran’s Day, but when we see them in a restaurant or in an airport,” Birdwell said.
He then turned his attention squarely to those men and women respectfully seated near center court. “It’s not that you earn a Purple Heart, but that you are willing to earn one.”
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